Nice people are just that: nice. Good people are just that: good. Compassionate people are just that: compassionate.
There's no need to ascribe their niceness, goodness, or compassion to their religiosity, as Jack Roberts did in an opinion piece, "Romney's religion should be an asset, not a liability," in today's Portland Oregonian.
I say this as a non-Mormon who from my Mormon friends has gained a deep appreciation for the positive values that church imparts to its members -- chief among them their obligation to provide support and charity for others. I could never join that church myself because their beliefs are not my beliefs, but I am convinced that every community benefits by having more people with the personal qualities most of the Mormons I know exhibit.
Well, it's nice to know that the Mormons Jack Roberts is familiar with are nice, good, compassionate people. But if you read some of the comments on the Oregonian article, it'll be clear (and utterly non-surprising) that some Mormons are jerks.
Most of my friends and acquaintances are either atheists or non-Christians. They have lots of positive qualities. I can pretty much guarantee that they're as nice, good, and compassionate as any bunch of religious people.
But I would never claim that their non-belief in God is what makes them so kind and caring. It's irrelevant, really, just as Romney's religion should be when voters assess his qualifications to be president.
Roberts quotes from a South Park episode dealing with Mormonism. This is to his credit; thumbs-up to any opinion writer who is able to support his position with a South Park quote. However, I learned from a commenter on his piece that Roberts left out the end of what a Mormon boy said in the South Park episode.
Through the magic of Google, I was able to find the script of that show. Here's what the Mormon boy says, in full (I've italicized the part Roberts left out, for understandable editorial reasons).
Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, but I have a great life. and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that. The truth is, I don't care if Joseph Smith made it all up, because what the church teaches now is loving your family, being nice and helping people. And even though people in this town might think that's stupid, I still choose to believe in it. All I ever did was try to be your friend, Stan, but you're so high and mighty you couldn't look past my religion and just be my friend back. You've got a lot of growing up to do, buddy. Suck my balls.
"Suck my balls" humanizes Gary, the Mormon boy. I found his mini-speech annoyingly sanctimonious up to that point. Those three words revealed him to be an appealingly flawed human, just like the rest of us.
Still, it's absurd to think that just because the Mormon church encourages its members to love their family, be nice, and help people, this is why Mormons do these things. Non-Mormons do those things also. Non-religious people do those things also.
All kinds of people all over the world love their family, are nice, and help people. Jack Roberts needs to realize this. By and large religion doesn't make people better, any more than playing golf, going to college, playing a musical instrument, or doing anything else makes people better.
Everything we experience in life, along with our genetic heritage, makes us who we are. Religion is one influence, but by no means the most important influence. Get to know all those nice, caring, compassionate atheists in your community, and you'll understand what I mean.